Complaint: Apple’s Part Pairing Powers Planned Obsolescence – The Week in Repair

French Group Files Complaint Over Apple Part Serialization

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We are once again being reminded that our friends at Apple Inc. are speaking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to repair. In the very same week that Apple heralded the introduction of its self-service repair program in the EU, the Cupertino company is being accused of using software (among other things) to keep users from repairing its devices and using third-party parts to keep Apple devices working.

A complaint, brought by the French environmental group HOP (Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmé – or “Stop Planned Obsolescence) targets Apple’s practice of part serialization ( also known as “pairing”), which ties the serial numbers of discrete components and peripherals of a product to a specific phone using embedded micro-chips. The use of part pairing with frequently replace components like screens, batteries and cameras,” allows the manufacturer to limit the possibilities of repair, in particular for non-approved repairers,” HOP alleges.

The suit is based on a French law that prevents companies from deliberately shortening product life spans in order to sell more products (a legal barrier that doesn’t exist in the U.S.).

“At a time when Apple prides itself on environmental initiatives, our role is to reveal the scandalous waste that it organizes in practice,” said Laëtitia Vasseur , co-founder and general delegate of HOP.

The case highlights a contrast: even as Apple stand up a “Self Repair Service,” that offers select iPhone and Mac parts to users, the company’s overall stance on independent repair of its products is far more complex – and less hospitable. In the U.S., the company is a major financial backer of industry groups that are seeking to defeat state- and federal right to repair laws. And Apple’s public statements on repair often sound sour notes. Look no further than Tim Cook’s remarks from earlier this year on repair to understand the company’s stance.

The company’s self-service repair program, while a step forward, is far from “user friendly.” Apple saddles device owners who wish to take advantage of the program with high part costs and puzzling options, like asking would-be fixers to make a $1,200 deposit so the company can ship them 70 pounds of professional repair equipment to do their repair. Even then, owners must defer to the company to get replaced parts – even Apple manufactured parts – “authorized” and clear annoying messages and avoid degraded functionality.

This is exactly the opposite of the “you can do it” ethos of the repair community – epitomized by sites like iFixit and grassroots organizations like Repair Cafes and Fixit Clinics.

Apple’s attempt to minimize the demand for repair is no accident. And by making it seem like something that can only be done by expert repair professionals, the company is preventing repair from becoming more mainstream. In short: there is money to be made in keeping repair obscure. Apple’s new “pro-repair” stance looks more and more like a veneer designed to avoid charges that it is anti-repair.

“If Apple wishes to obstruct independent repair and the development of reconditioning, justice must stand in the way of these anachronistic, irresponsible and illegal practices,” said Samuel Sauvage , co-founder of HOP.

While the U.S. lacks a specific law against planned obsolescence, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been pushing back against problematic business practices under the leadership of Chairperson Lina Khan. The Commission’s 2021 Nixing the Fix report called out Apple by name for a variety of anti-repair practices. Proposed state and federal right to repair laws – including The Fair Repair Act that awaits a signature by New York Governor Kathy Hochul – would compel device makers like Apple to make parts, information and software needed for repair available to owners and independent repair professionals.

What do you think the best mechanism to hold companies accountable is on repair? let us know in the comments.

Other News

Fair Repair Act one of 250 bills NY Governor Hochul still hasn’t signed: Governor Kathy Hochul has just over two weeks left to sign more than 200 bills passed by New York’s legislature, among them the Digital Fair Repair Act – the first electronics right to repair bill to pass through a state legislature.

Expect e-waste from electric cars: While progressive state like California are promoting the transition to electric cars, there is a lack of infrastructure to deal with them at the end of their lives. Groups like the Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group have submitted policy recommendations to change change this.

Two major antitrust developments for big tech: Two actions by the FTC are attempting to make it more difficult for companies to swallow up smaller ones. We know that when companies eat up smaller companies, they are able to create less competetive environments where they pass costs (social, environmental, or financial) onto consumers.

Microsoft: The FTC is suing Microsoft to keep them from buying the $69 billion company Activision Blizzard, which would let it dominate the gaming industry.

Meta: The FTC is suing Meta over its acquisition of a virtual-reality (VR) fitness company. This is bigger than an exercise app, and could set precedent for the company’s other endeavors in the VR world.

Portland’s focus on repair culture: In its attempts to “go circular,” the city of Portland is focusing on educating and socializing repair – with the hope that leading with community will create lasting change.

Canadian aftermarket players say R2R within reach: Automakers in Canada are optimistic that they will be able to pass a nationwide automotive right to repair by 2024.

Unintended consequences of GPS trackers: As internet-connected devices become smaller and more easily concealed to the general public, there are many unintended consequences – with GPS trackers being the latest example.

Resources, Events, and Opportunities

Interview on repair in fashion: Hasna Kourda, Founder of Save Your Wardrobe recently gave an interview on her views the roles of repair and reuse in the future of fashion.

The Federal Trade Commission wants to hear from you on right to repair: the FTC has extended the public comment period for proposed updates to its Energy Labeling Rule that would modernize and expand the rule’s coverage to reduce energy costs for consumers and require manufacturers to provide consumers with repair instructions. The new deadline for comments is on or before December 27, 2022. Write “Energy Labeling Rule ANPR, Matter No. R611004” on your comment, which you can submit via the FTC site:

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